Book Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

December 8, 2011 at 1:31 PM (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Juliette has been locked away for over 200 days because of a lethal incident she couldn’t control.  An incident involving what happens to people when they touch her skin.  When a male roommmate cellmate moves into her confined space, it’s only the beginning of a new chapter of her life.  Not only does she have to relearn how to interact with another human being, his presence heralds a time of change; The Reestablishment, who have taken over the outside world, want to offer Juliette a place on their side.  But Juliette, with her roommate’s help, will finally find it in herself to fight to live her own life.

Whew!  <– That was my first reaction when I first picked up this book.  I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews and hype surrounding this book, and let me tell you–this one deserves it all.  This book was so fantastic that when I was stalled on my own thesis novel, I picked it up and suddenly, it was as if the world was made new.  All of the changes that had been suggested in my most recent workshop, I saw come alive in Ms. Mafi’s writing.  It was as if this book were a manual on how good writing gets done.  Like it was speaking to me as a writer.  (My classmates and friends will tell you–I recommended the darn thing to every single person who would listen.)

That said, I have to talk about the quality of writing.  The story was compelling from the first page–I immediately wanted to know about Juliette, her world, how she would change by the end of the story.  And she kept me in suspense the whole time.  I’m still in suspense, but it’s even worse now because I want to read book two!  (Argh!)  I thought the backstory was dispersed evenly throughout the first half.  I never felt as if there were info-dumps, or that the story got bogged down in description or history.  There was an even pacing and flow to the narrative, as if the story was always moving, and I never felt bored.  (I even read the book faster than my usual snail’s pace!)  And, of course, it’s told in first-person, and the language itself is very distinctive.  Ms. Mafi’s descriptions play with hyperbolic metaphor, but not in a bad way.  Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but these moments are overshadowed by moments when I feel the narrative is painting a picture in strokes of vivid, exquisite language.  Sometimes I just wanted to hug my book, sigh, and sit back in my chair to savor those poetic lines.

The story itself is pretty cool.  Juliette is a bit like Rogue from The X-Men, and the fact that someone wants to use her to hurt people is a very good motivation for her to finally take a stand against people trying to control or confine her.  Warner is a twisted guy, and I pretty much was expecting the little “twist” near the end, but I think it was meant to be all-but-stated.  Kenji is funny, but doesn’t show up until late in the story.  As for Adam, he’s a pretty good male lead.  I don’t really see anything very distinctive about him, but I actually love him for the way he treats other people.  Just your typical, upstanding good guy.  Who wouldn’t want to curl up against him?

And, yes, there is romance!  And I didn’t mind it at all!  Actually, I barely noticed it for at least the first half of the book.  It got more prominent in the second half, but I think it emerged seamlessly so that I wasn’t all “what the–why are they??” as I sometimes am.  Ms. Mafi did a good job of keeping the story grounded in the immediacy of the situations and events so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the romantic elements.  And that’s just how I like my romance.  And the couple’s backstory breaks my heart and warms it at the same time.  Lots of “awwwww” from me, imagining them as sad little kids.  ;)

I’m pretty new to the dystopian genre, so I can’t really comment on how well it hits the dystopic button.  But I can say that I felt like there was a good amount of worldbuilding.  There are things wrong with the world, and there’s an explanation to why things are wrong with the world, and it all seems logical to me now that I’ve read to the end.  However, I don’t really quite understand the structure of the institution where Juliette is locked up in the beginning.  But I’m hoping this gets addressed in later books.

Something I loved about this book was the relationship portrayed between self-perception and power.  Juliette is on the verge of insanity at the start, and she is afraid of herself, and how she can hurt other people because people deem her worthy of being locked up.  Warner treats her like a pet tiger, Kenji refers to her as the “psycho chick.”  Adam treats her like a human being.  It isn’t until Juliette believes she can be on the same level as human beings that she finds the inspiration to fight against the system.  It isn’t until a person values her or himself that one can see true worth.  It’s very well-threaded throughout the story.

Well, I think I’ve rambled on quite a bit.  Bottom line: Good book.  Very good book.  It will hook into you, then make you hungry for a sequel.  And it’s a fast read.  What’s not to like?

Review copy acquired from the publisher at San Diego Comic Con.

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